The Power of Positional Chess, Pt. 4
Everyone eventually learns that it’s important to find or create open files for your Rooks, or they might not be able to join in the battle (actually the “find” part is easy, but the “create” part demands a good deal of skill). Once you understand that files are important, you then learn that doubling Rooks on an open file is even better. Once the wonders of doubling sinks in, then you’re told (by the nerd next door or by some wise chess guru) that tripling on an open file is the highest form of love – a Queen and both Rooks joining together to claim the file for their own. However, the mother of all open file setups consists of a Queen behind two Rooks, which is known as Alekhine’s Gun.
The first time Alekhine’s Gun appeared (I have no idea who came up with this name) was in San Remo, which featured one of Alekhine’s most dominant performances – he won the event with the outrageous score of 14 points out of 15 games, 3.5 points ahead of the second-place finisher (Nimzowitsch)!
Alexander Alekhine – Aron Nimzowitsch, [C17] San Remo 1930
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.Bd2 Ne7 6.Nb5 Bxd2+ 7.Qxd2 0-0 8.c3 b6 9.f4 Ba6 10.Nf3 Qd7 11.a4 Nbc6 12.b4 cxb4 13.cxb4 Bb7 14.Nd6 f5 15.a5 Nc8 16.Nxb7 Qxb7 17.a6! Qf7 18.Bb5! N8e7 (18…N6e7 19.Ng5 Qg6 20.Bd7 wins) 19.0-0 h6
Black is already lost since pain is about rain down on the c-file.
20.Rfc1 Rfc8 21.Rc2 Qe8 22.Rac1
Poor Black. His Knight is pinned to his Queen, but if his Queen moves away the Knight will be lost.
22…Rab8 23.Qe3 Rc7 24.Rc3 Qd7 25.R1c2 Kf8 26.Qc1
And here we are – Alekhine’s Gun! The Rooks beating down on the file while the Queen adds some turbo-energy behind them is a very daunting sight!
26…Rbc8 27.Ba4! (threatening to win the house with 28.b5) 27…b5 28.Bxb5 Ke8 29.Ba4 (once again threatening to win everything with 30.b5) 29…Kd8 30.h4!, 1-0.
Zugzwang and the end of the game. Black can push his kingside pawns but after White eats them Black will be left with a sad choice: move his c8-Rook to b8 and allow Bxc6; move his c6-Knight and allow Bxd7; move his e7-Knight and allow Bxc6; or move his King or Queen to e8 (leaving c7 with insufficient support) and allow b5.
Six years later Alekhine took his “Gun” out of the holster again in Nottingham. (Trivia time! Did you know that Alekhine’s Gun is the official chess move of the National Rifle Association, while Ringo Starr credited Alekhine’s Gun with the creation of the Beatles’ Happiness is a Warm Gun?)
William Winter – Alexander Alekhine, [C01] Nottingham 1936
1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.Ne2 Bd6 6.c3 Qh4 7.Nd2 Bg4 8.Qc2 0-0-0 9.Nf1 g6 10.Be3 Nge7 11.0-0-0 Bf5 12.Nfg3 Bxd3 13.Qxd3 h6 14.f4 Qg4 15.h3 Qd7 16.Rhf1 h5 17.Ng1 h4 18.N3e2 Nf5 19.Nf3 f6 20.Nh2 Rde8 21.Bd2 Re6 22.Ng4 Rhe8 23.Rde1 R8e7 24.Kd1 Qe8
25.Qf3 Na5 26.b3 Nc4 27.Bc1 Nce3+ 28.Bxe3 Nxe3+ 29.Nxe3 Rxe3 30.Qf2 Qb5 31.Nc1 Rxc3 32.Rxe7 Bxe7 33.Qe1 Kd7 34.f5 Re3 35.Qf2 g5 36.Re1 Re4 37.Rxe4 dxe4 38.Kd2 Bd6 39.Kc2 Bf4, 0-1.
Though the awesome formation of tripling on a file seems to be crushing, the defending side has shown that he can, at times, hold body and soul together.
The next game reaches our usual Alekhine’s Gun position (where Black is uncomfortable but still managing to hold on), but then takes us on a magic carpet ride through one positional concept after another, including such oldies but goodies as cat-and-mouse, weakened light-square complex, great Knight vs. bad Bishop, and more! Make sure you read the instructive prose!
Stefano Tatai (2430) – Miguel Najdorf (2525), [B41] Manila 1973
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bb4 7.Bd3 Nc6 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.0-0 e5 10.Na4 Be7 11.c5 0-0 12.Be3 Rb8 13.Rc1 d5 14.cxd6 Qxd6 15.Ba7 Ra8 16.Bc5 Qc7 17.Bb6 Qb7 18.Qc2 Be6 19.Bc4 Bxc4 20.Qxc4 Rac8 21.Qe2 Nd7 22.Be3 Rfd8 23.Rc4 h6 24.Rfc1 Rc7 25.h3 Rdc8 26.R1c3 c5 27.Qc2 a5 28.b3 Qb5 29.Qc1
White’s advantage is obvious: pressure against c5, the a5-pawn might prove to be an eventual target, a hole on d5 (a nice home for White’s Knight), and a good Bishop vs. Black’s poor Bishop. That’s lots of great stuff for White, but Black’s defenses are, for the moment, holding. An actual win is a long, long way away. Though White’s play in this game is far from impressive, interestingly he ultimately milks all of these imbalances in one way or another. Eventually White drags his opponent down by trading his Bishop for Black’s Knight, thus gaining a very strong Knight vs. a very bad Bishop.
This shows us that starting out with an advantageous position isn’t enough to drag down a strong player. You need to be fully versed in all the positional tricks to get the desired result.
29…Rc6 30.Rc2 Bf8 31.Nc3 Qb7 32.Nd5
White sees if he can get some mileage from the d5-square.
32…Ra6 33.Qd1 Rcc6 34.Ra4
Prodding the a5-pawn.
And he kicks a5 a bit more.
35…Qa7 36.Qe2 Rdc6 37.Qe1
Not able to come up with a decisive plan, he continues to cat-and-mouse his opponent. Never forget the cat-and-mouse credo: If you can do something in two moves or 10 moves, always do it in 10 moves! That way you wear your opponent out and also dull his sense of danger.
Adding more heat to the a5-beatdown.
Black calmly defends everything.
This makes e5 rock-solid, but it also weakens all the light squares around Black’s King. This new advantage will ultimately be a major cause of Black’s demise. Note the following important rule: Even though you may have lots of advantages, never stop acquiring new ones!
40.Bd2 Nb8 41.Rc3 Nc6 42.Rg3 Kh8 43.Qd1 Qf7 44.Ne3 R6a7 45.Kh2 Kh7 46.Qe2 Kh8 47.Nc4 Kh7 48.Rd3
The last several moves continued the cat-and-mouse policy.
This exchange gives White a superior Knight vs. a poor enemy Bishop.
49…axb4 50.Rxa7 Rxa7 51.Rd2 Rd7 52.Rxd7 Qxd7 53.h4!
From this point on White plays to take advantage of three things: 1) the weakened kingside light-squares; 2) the superiority of the Knight over Black’s Bishop; 3) the airy situation of Black’s King.
53…Qb7 54.h5 Qa8 55.Kg1 Qa6 56.Kh1 Qa8 57.Kh2
Oh cat-and-mouse, how I love thee!
57…Qa6 58.Qc2 Qa8 59.Ne3 Qe8 60.Qe2 Qa8 61.Nf5 Qe8 62.Qg4 Qf7 63.Nh4 c4?
Black cracks under the monotonous repetition of cat-and-mouse.
64.Qg6+! Kg8 65.bxc4
65.Qxf7+ Kxf7 66.bxc4 was better. A sample: 66…Ke6 67.Kg3 Kd7 (67…Kd6? 68.Ng6) 68.Kg4 Kc6 69.Kf5 Kc5 70.Ng6 Bd6 71.Ke6 Bb8 72. Kf7 Kxc4 73.Kxg7 Kc3 74.Ne7 Bd6 75.Nd5+ Kb2 76. Kxh6 Kxa2 77.Nxb4+ Bxb4 78.Kg6, 1-0.
65…Qxc4 66.Nf5 Kh8??
What is Black’s best defense?
After 66…Kh8??, how can White reel in the point?
Of course, the “Gun” doesn’t always have significance. For example, the file may be open but turns out to be a road to nowhere. Or the opponent’s threats on the other side of the board are mightier than the “Gun’s” threats.
In the following game White is a pawn down but seems to have enormous pressure against Black’s pawns on a4 and c6. Also, White’s Bishop seems to be superior to Black’s Knight. However, Black quickly dispels these illusions and feeds his opponent a dose of reality. How did he do it?
White to move. In this position he didn’t capture Black’s c7-pawn by 44.Rxc7. Instead he played 44.h5 retaining a clear advantage, and after lots of cat-and-mouse, eventually won). Why? Could he have saved himself a lot of trouble by just taking the thing? How would you assess the position after 44.Rxc7?
In our next example (which features a potent “Gun” and a new feature: sacrificing an Exchange to break through on the file), Black’s problem is that c7 has to be defended by the e8-Knight, but that same Knight is out of commission there, and also blocks in the c8-Rook. Black’s g4-pawn also needs to be defended (and f2-f3, opening up Black’s King, is also in the air). Finally, any move by the c8-Rook allows a possible Rxc7 sacrifice, when White’s pieces (at the cost of the Exchange) steam into the enemy position.
Here’s a puzzle featuring a gentleman with the first name of Ashot, which I think is a perfect name for a guy using Alekhine’s Gun!
White’s Alekhine’s Gun fell on its face when, in a fantasy variation, White grabbed a pawn he shouldn’t have touched (in the actual game, the "Gun" won). Down material, is White doomed?